House of Commons
Monday 26 October 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Let me begin by welcoming the new shadow Front-Bench team to their respective roles, and in particular the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), whom I look forward to working with on the whole of my portfolio, as we did on special educational needs in the past. I am sure she, along with the rest of the House, would agree that kinship carers play a pivotal role in caring for many children who cannot live with their parents. That is why during the previous Parliament we issued family and friends care statutory guidance for local authorities, which makes it clear that every council should publish a family and friends care policy setting out how it will support the needs of children living with kinship carers, whether or not they are looked after. Some 83% of English local authorities now have a published policy, compared with 42% in 2012, and I intend to write again to councils on this issue.
I know the Minister will recognise the important role that kinship carers are taking, many of whom are the grandparents of those for whom they have responsibility. Their caring responsibilities prevent them from working full-time. What assistance can my hon. Friend give to grandparents who happen to be kinship carers to support them further in their caring duties?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the important and often crucial role that working grandparents play in proving childcare and supporting working families. As a Government we recognise that fact. That is why we have announced plans to extend the current system of shared parental pay and leave to cover working grandparents, thereby providing much greater choice for families trying to balance childcare and work. We will bring forward legislation to enable this change with the aim of implementing it by 2018.
Carers save the taxpayer a great deal of money, as well as often being the best option for the children they are looking after, so in addition to the publication by local authorities of their practice, will the Minister ensure that those local authorities have the resources they need to support kinship carers, both to save the taxpayer money and to do what is right for the carers and the children in the short as well as longer term?
We have taken such a strong interest in these issues for all the reasons that the hon. Gentleman set out, because kinship carers are performing a role that would otherwise have to be performed by the state. That is why, whether through the discretionary housing fund or through the work that we are doing with the Family Rights Group and others to encourage family group conferences, we are trying to help those families where at all possible to keep children living with them, thereby helping to save not only taxpayers’ money, but those children’s futures.
Given the significant financial pressure from placement breakdown on the formal fostering system, will the Minister support a kinship reform grant, similar to the adoption reform grant, which has a significant impact, to show that the Government are matching the intent with the money to support kinship care?
My hon. Friend will be aware of the already impressive impact the adoption support fund has had on helping families trying to care for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. It is clear that such a positive approach across the board will help many other families struggling in similar circumstances to bring about those excellent outcomes. The special guardianship review, which is under way, and the improvements to social work reform will help to deliver better pre- and post-placement support for all those children who need it.
At my last surgery I had two families who were taking on kinship responsibilities. They have less ongoing support than adoptive parents. Will the Government ensure that they get support equal to that which adoptive parents receive?
In the previous answer, on the support that we have offered on adoption, I touched on some of the other support that is available to kinship carers in their own local authority area. That is why through Ofsted inspections of local authorities and through the family and friends statutory guidance we have made sure that there is a greater emphasis on the support that we know works for kinship carers. More importantly, the announcement on shared parental leave will help many of those families who have a grandparent who works and who is helping with childcare, by providing the flexibility they need to have a much better balance between having a family and having good childcare in place.
I was privileged to meet a group of kinship carers, along with the Family Rights Group, in Parliament a couple of weeks ago. They told me that the Government’s changes to welfare might have an unintended consequence by deterring people from taking up kinship care, because many look after more than three children. What assessment has the Minister made of the likely impact of changes to tax credits on this group of people, who are doing such fantastic work?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that we have the right support in place for kinship carers and that any changes are thought through carefully, and that is exactly what we have done. He will know that the two-child policy is not being introduced until April 2017, and that any extra support that kinship carers receive from their local authority is disregarded when it comes to the benefit cap. Extra support is available in exceptional circumstances to protect kinship carers from those changes from April 2017. All these things have been thought through, but of course we are happy to consider them as they are implemented.
The Government remain committed to implementing our manifesto pledge to make funding fairer. We are protecting the schools budget, which will rise as pupil numbers increase, and we have made significant progress towards fairer funding for schools, with an extra £390 million for underfunded areas this year, which we have now confirmed will be included in budgets for next year as well.
My right hon. Friend will know that schools in Staffordshire receive about £320 less per pupil than the English average. At the risk of boring you, Mr Speaker, I raised this matter in 1992, and I raised it during Prime Minister’s questions with Tony Blair, who was very sympathetic but also did nothing, and when I raised it in the previous Parliament, I was told that it was being blocked by the “wicked Liberals” and David Laws. Well, now we are in government, so what are we going to do about it and when will it happen?
I entirely agree, Mr Speaker.
The Minister for Schools recently met colleagues in Staffordshire to discuss school funding, which I hope they found useful. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) was unable to attend, but I know that he was there in spirit. As I have said, we have protected the per pupil funding in Staffordshire so that schools will continue to receive the additional £130,000 they received in 2015-16, but I am determined to make further progress on this.
Under current arrangements, per pupil funding in Worcestershire is £4,231, whereas in nearby Birmingham it is £5,218. When my right hon. Friend visits Worcestershire in a couple of weeks, will she be able to deliver some good news to my constituents about upcoming arrangements that will narrow that gap?
I am very much looking forward to my visit to Worcestershire. I cannot say what I will be saying at that point, but I know that my hon. Friend and other Members from Worcestershire, including my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), have been campaigning tirelessly for fairer schools funding for some time, and I know that they will welcome the nearly £7 million extra per year that we have given to schools in Worcestershire. I look forward to working on this further.
If the Secretary of State is to get into equitable funding right across England, will she also look at where that equitable funding ends up in terms of where students end up, whether in further education colleges, sixth-form colleges or studio schools? The fact of the matter is that so many kids across our country are not getting a fair share.
I think that I can therefore welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for the principle of fairer funding. As he will know, we are of course looking at all elements of funding as part of the forthcoming spending review, but we have made it clear that we are protecting per pupil funding in this Parliament, which means that the amount going to schools will go up as the number of pupils goes up.
With due respect to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), I must say, as one of the “wicked Liberal Democrats”, that equitable funding requests do not always seem to sit happily with the pupil premium policy. Has the Secretary of State any thoughts on either revising or reviewing that policy?
I think that we can all agree that pupil premium funding has been hugely successful. It is absolutely right that over £2.5 billion is given to schools for additional funding to help those who are most disadvantaged, and schools, by and large, are spending it extremely effectively. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that obviously the school funding formula reflects both deprivation funding and pupil premium funding, which has since been introduced, but we absolutely want to ensure that the same pupils with the same needs attract the same funding. I reiterate that pupil premium funding has been very successful.
Given the scale and complexity of the issue, does the Secretary of State agree that we need some proposals relatively soon so that the Education Committee, for one, can examine them and be satisfied that they offer a long-term solution to a very significant problem?
My hon. Friend, who chairs the Committee, is absolutely right that any solution must be for the long term. I can assure him that, were there to be any changes, there would be an extensive consultation, in which I hope members of the Committee as well as members of the public, including schools, teachers and parents across the country, would be involved.
Redbridge, like many other parts of London, faces an acute shortage of places in primary and secondary provision over the course of this Parliament. Will the Secretary of State or a relevant Minister agree to meet me and representatives from the local authority to discuss this? Will she consider allowing local authorities such as Redbridge with a good track record of local authority maintained schools not only to expand existing local authority schools but to build new ones?
I or one of the Ministers will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. I remind him that in the previous Parliament we put in an extra £5 billion into the system to build new places, and we have committed another £7 billion for new places across the system. Of course, his own party took out funding for 200,000 places at a time of growing pupil numbers.
In a similar vein to questions from other hon. Friends, may I point out that pupils in Taunton Deane receive £2,000 less than the average per pupil nationally? I have the backing of thousands of teachers and parents on a petition for our fairer funding campaign. Can I give them any indication from the Minister that they will be listened to?
I know that petitions and signatures are being collected up and down the country, as in my Leicestershire constituency, where fair funding is also a huge issue. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am extremely aware of these issues, as are Ministers across Government.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that for the first time since the mid-’90s school spending per pupil will fall in real terms. Those in further education and early years already fear huge cuts. Will the Secretary of State assure this House that any increases in funding in one area of her budget will not be at the further expense of others?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot give any predictions about the forthcoming spending review until all the negotiations and discussion with the Treasury are concluded, but of course the issues of fairer funding that we have been discussing are a very important part of responding to the pressures on schools budgets across the country.
Mental Health Services
11. What plans the Government has to improve mental health in schools. (901773)
We have high aspirations for all children and want them to be able to fulfil their potential academically and in terms of their mental wellbeing. This attainment is best supported if they have good mental health, character and resilience.
I am pleased that a new initiative in Macclesfield, Emotionally Healthy Schools, has been established between our local mental health service providers—Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust—Cheshire East Council, and six schools and local community groups, including Just Drop-In, which does incredibly important work in this area. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such local initiatives have a vital role to play in improving mental health outcomes for young people in our communities?
I absolutely do recognise that the partnerships between health and education are vital in getting the right mental health support to children quickly. I welcome the initiatives that have been established in Macclesfield. We believe that the significant investment of £1.4 billion in children and young people’s mental health services that this Government have announced will make a real difference. I am delighted that there are so many questions on children’s mental health in this session today.
A parent of a young girl in Walthamstow suffering from an eating disorder recently wrote to me giving a harrowing account of the struggle to get support for her daughter. She suggested that one of the things that would make a difference would be for child and adolescent mental health services to have a presence directly in schools so that they could intervene earlier. As my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) pointed out, we know from the IFS that real-terms funding for schools is going to be cut for the first time since the 1990s. What can the Secretary of State say directly to my constituent to reassure her that every young person will have access to mental health services directly in their schools so that such situations can be avoided in future?
I agree with the hon. Lady. We all, as constituency MPs, hear these heart-rending stories. I, too, have had parents in my constituency bring to my attention cases of eating disorders among young people. I mentioned the £1.4 billion that the Government have already introduced, a significant sum of which is being spent this year on supporting young people with eating disorders. We are also contributing £1.5 million to a pilot with NHS England to train single points of contact in schools and specialist mental health services so that those services work well together to ensure that schools, which do not necessarily have mental health experts trained in that area, know exactly who to go to and how to get help for their pupils.
The Secretary of State may be aware that Blackpool has the highest proportion in the country of pupils in pupil referral units. This stems partly from poor underlying mental health. What more can the Government do to ensure that each pupil has a single point of contact not just in one school but throughout their education, from age four to whenever they leave, so that we start to tackle this problem?
I have just mentioned the £1.5 million we are contributing to a pilot for single points of contact between schools and specialist mental health services. That pilot will run in 250 schools, with training starting later this term. I should also like to mention that this year, for the first time, the Department for Education included just under £5 million in our voluntary and community sector grants for organisations such as Mind and Place2Be and for putting new resources for parents on the MindEd website.
As someone who has in the past been a council lead member for children and education, I know the importance of children and adolescent mental health services and the educational psychology service in ensuring that teachers and other school staff are able to keep children with challenges in school and learning effectively. The Mental Health Foundation has said that one in 10 children have mental health problems at some point in their school career; that 81% of educational psychologists have seen an increase in demand for their services in the past 12 months; that there is a shortage in services; and that ed psychs are leaving the profession in alarming numbers, possibly owing to the pressure of their workload. How is the Secretary of State ensuring that an adequate number of professional educational psychologists are working in schools? Is she—
The hon. Lady speaks with great passion on an issue that she obviously cares about greatly. We have commissioned more places with educational psychologists this year than last year. She is absolutely right to say that a lot of this is about making sure that young people stay in education and that there are no barriers to them doing so. I am very happy to write to her with further details.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that when somebody in a family, particularly a younger person, is struck with mental ill health, it affects the whole family. That is why funding through the voluntary and community sector programme and organisations such as Mind and Place2Be, as well as the MindEd website, which provides resources for parents, are important. I strongly encourage any parents who are worried about the mental health of their children to have an early conversation with people in their schools, including headteachers and teachers, so that they can then make the referrals.
Since 2013-14, all 16-to-19 institutions have received a national funding rate, which we have held steady in 2015-16. We understand the financial challenges facing the sector and have therefore launched a national programme of area reviews to ensure that we have strong and sustainable institutions delivering high-quality routes to employment.
The Secretary of State said earlier that she cannot guarantee funding or protection for any one age group, but the Minister knows that the further education sector has suffered a disproportionate cut in funding over many years and the area review does not even include sixth forms in schools. When are the Government actually going to do something to protect 16 to 19-year-olds?
The hon. Gentleman is not quite right, because the regional school commissioner, who is responsible for commissioning schools in his or her area, is always going to be part of the area reviews and can bring in the perspective of sixth forms in schools, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman would think it practical to include every single school with a sixth form in the review and actually achieve a result. We are determined to achieve a result in a short space of time so that we have strong, specialist institutions that are able to provide a high-quality education.
Kingston college in my constituency has federated with Carshalton college in a neighbouring constituency. Will my hon. Friend congratulate their move to consolidate their efforts and to provide better provision for young people going into further education, and will he visit Kingston college with me?
The reason I would love to visit is that that is a model example of what the sector should be doing. It is very important for hon. Members to remember that the sector is independent: Government cannot force institutions to merge, but we can encourage them to do so and show great examples such as that outlined by my hon. Friend.
20. Wigan colleges are concerned that the Greater Manchester area review starts with the strong presumption that the merger of colleges is the only way forward. Will the Minister confirm that other ways to achieve financial stability for colleges and good outcomes for pupils will be given serious consideration if they present a strong case for that? (901784)
We are certainly open to a whole range of options. As I say, ultimately, colleges themselves will determine what they think will work best. I do not agree with the hon. Lady that somehow there is anything necessarily to be afraid of from a merger. A merger can mean that people save a whole lot of administrative and management costs, so they can actually pour more money into paying teachers to do the job that we all want them to do.
In the last Parliament, the Government cut education funding for 16 to 19-year-olds hardest of all. Today, we learn that funding allocations for colleges and schools for the 16-to-19 sector are down over £100 million so far compared with last year. The Government have given them further instability with the flawed series of area FE reviews, jeopardising colleges and their students. With this record, does the Minister have any guarantees for the spending review to secure viability for the 16-to-19 sector?
We might want to look over the channel to see what happens to an education sector when the Government are not getting a grip on spending and on ensuring a strong economy. In Portugal, schools have been closed and teachers laid off. In Greece, teachers have faced a 30% cut in their salaries. We are ensuring a strong sector that is able to educate young people for a life of work.
Sure Start Children’s Centres
It is crucial that we evaluate the impact of children’s centres for families. The Department for Education has funded the “Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England” research, and three interim reports were published in June 2015. I expect the full impact report to be published later this year, with a consultation to follow on how children’s centres can have the greatest impact for local communities going forward.
Palfrey Sure Start in my constituency has twice been rated outstanding for doing community-based work and culturally sensitive work, not just childcare. What further steps can be taken to ensure that it can continue to support parents with this vital work?
The hon. Lady is an excellent and assiduous MP. I congratulate the Sure Start centre in her constituency on the excellent work it is doing. That highlights the fact that, to look at the future of children’s centres, we must look at more innovation and other ways of delivering services that work for local communities and satisfy local demand.
In Enfield, some 12 children’s centres have been closed. Headteachers tell me that that is resulting in more and more children not being school-ready, which affects their progress throughout their whole primary school career and beyond. What does the Minister intend to do to address that problem?
Labour Members continue to count buildings rather than services when they talk about children’s centres. One million families have benefited from children’s centre services. Free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds and for all three and four-year-olds is delivering the school-readiness that has seen record numbers of children ready for school, according to the early years foundation stage profile.
The Minister continues to talk about the services that are offered. However, he will be aware that the charity 4Children has recently highlighted that more than 2,000 children’s centre sites have had their budgets significantly cut this financial year and that fewer centres are now able to reach fewer families. Nearly 60% report cutting front-line services, nearly 30% have significantly cut the range of services they offer, 28% are now forced to charge for services that would otherwise have been free and 20% are reducing their hours. Is the Minister proud of the Government’s legacy on Sure Start?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new post. It is great to see that many of her predecessors are still in the shadow education team. It is wonderful that the new politics is being led by the same old faces.
I am proud of our record on children’s centres. We have seen record numbers of families receiving support, but there has also been a 50% increase in the number of health visitors and we have expanded the troubled families programme. We are on the side of the families that need children’s centres most, and we are doing something about it.
Tax Credits (Free School Meals)
7. What assessment she has made of the effect of the Government's proposed changes to tax credits on the number of children accessing free school meals.
Thanks to the growing economy, the number of children requiring free school meals is falling. We are currently assessing the effect of proposed changes to tax credits.
The proposed changes to tax credits will see 22,000 children in Scotland lose their entitlement to free school meals, although our First Minister has pledged to safeguard that entitlement. Will the Minister make a similar pledge to ensure that children from the most vulnerable backgrounds in the rest of the UK remain eligible for free school meals?
The hon. Lady will be aware that, in the rest of the UK, the majority of children who are entitled to free school meals have parents who are on out-of-work benefits. We are assessing the impact of the changes to tax credits, and there is nothing to suggest that people who currently receive free school meals will not continue to do so.
If children become hungry or undernourished as a result of missing out on free school meals, what effect will that have on attainment levels in the classroom and the life chances of future generations? What steps will the Government take to mitigate the long-term impact of these short-sighted cuts?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that eligibility for free school meals in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government. The Scotland Bill will give the Scottish Government power to top up or reverse tax credits, or to raise taxes, but they are noticeably silent about what they will do to ensure that such eligibility continues.
As the Minister correctly points out, free school meals in Scotland are a matter not for him but for the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Is it not odd to hear Members of the Scottish National party questioning the Minister about free school meals in England, when I cannot go to Edinburgh and question Ministers there about free school meals in Scotland?
My hon. Friend makes an important point that was also highlighted by the Minister for Skills. In countries such as Greece that did not take grown-up, difficult decisions, teachers’ pay has been cut by 30% and thousands of schools have closed. This Government are taking the right decisions for the country.
As the Minister knows, free school meals are vital to ensure that many children have access to a hot and healthy meal every day. Recent reports from Kellogg’s and the Trussell Trust highlight that thousands of children who rely on free school meals in term time will go hungry during the current half-term holiday. Does the Minister agree that free school meals are a vital tool in combating child hunger, and will he promise to protect universal infant free school meals in the spending review, so that infant children from low-income working families do not go hungry?
I am glad that the hon. Lady has brought up a policy that we in this Government introduced, and I am proud of the take-up and quality of school meals for all children. In our manifesto we committed to continuing with that—we are going through the spending review, but our manifesto commitments remain.
Assuming that a similar percentage of children across the rest of the UK will lose their entitlement to free school meals as the percentage estimated for Scotland, how much does the Minister estimate that changes to tax credits will save his Department on free school meals, and how will Scotland see its budget cut as a result?
It is worth making it absolutely clear that whatever the position of tax credits for the United Kingdom, eligibility for free school meals in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Government. I would rather that SNP Members did not try to scaremonger about what will happen in the rest of the United Kingdom, and instead made clear what they will do as a result of these changes.
Straightaway we can see from the Minister’s answer that there will be budgetary impacts on Scotland from decisions on which Scottish MPs will no longer be able to vote. Can he assure us that when there will be funding implications, Scottish MPs will not be barred from voting?
I am not sure that the hon. Lady listened to my answer, but she makes the point about tax credits in general. Tax credits are a matter for the United Kingdom. This House has voted on tax credits three times and each time the motion has been passed. As for the implications for free school meals, as I said, that is a matter for the Scottish Government.
When carrying out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, schools must have regard to the statutory guidance we have issued, “Keeping children safe in education”, which includes ensuring an effective child protection policy, together with appropriate safeguarding responses to children going missing from education and procedures for handling allegations of peer-to-peer abuse.
Where there is a specific safeguarding incident that either a governor or parent wants to raise, they should contact their local authority’s children’s services safeguarding team; where there are concerns about safeguarding processes at a school, they should be raised through the school complaints process; and if the safeguarding processes at the local authority are causing concern, they should be raised with Ofsted. In law, it is the local safeguarding children’s board that is responsible for developing and scrutinising local procedures and arrangements, but I am sure my hon. Friend will also know that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has an excellent helpline to enable parents who have concerns about safeguarding in their school to raise them directly.
Ofsted recently praised Stockport academy for its outstanding work to keep pupils safe. The school uses a software application into which staff input any concern they have about a child, including if they are missing from a lesson. That means that immediate checks can be made to ensure that the child is in a safe place. Does the Minister agree that that approach to safeguarding, using modern technology, should be used by more schools?
I know how assiduous the hon. Lady has been in pursuing these matters, and it is good to hear of that initiative in her constituency from Stockport academy. I would like to learn more—as, I am sure, would the Department—about how it has achieved that, so that that best practice might be spread more widely. I am happy to discuss that with her further.
Many parents will be surprised to know that under the previous Government a requirement for volunteers in schools to undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check was removed. Is the Minister planning to review that change in the law?
There are no current decisions to be made about whether to review that particular measure. As the hon. Lady knows, there were some widespread changes made during the last Parliament—they were predominantly led by the Home Office, but the Department for Education was kept closely involved. We feel that we have a robust system in place, but more important is making sure that the people who are delivering the services have the best practice, skills and knowledge at their disposal, because where things go wrong, it tends to be through basic practice failures, rather than systems.
Sixth-form Colleges (VAT)
I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that academies, schools and sixth-form colleges should receive equal treatment in respect of VAT. Does he therefore agree that it is grossly unfair that, per institution, the average sixth-form college is out of pocket by £314,000? That is hardly equal treatment.
I entirely understand those arguments and have some sympathy with them, but I would point out to my hon. Friend that sixth-form colleges, like further education colleges, also have the freedom to borrow, which many of them have taken advantage of. That is not a freedom that is available to other schools, so there are swings and roundabouts.
Sixth-form colleges are arguably the most successful education institutions in our system, in terms of educational achievement and financial efficiency, so would it not be sensible for the Government to encourage the creation of more sixth-form colleges, rather than punishing them for their success?
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are remarkable sixth-form colleges achieving extraordinary things, and I want to support them as best we can. As he knows, one option we are keen to explore is whether some sixth-form colleges might want to link up with groups of schools and multi-academy trusts in order to be stronger themselves and to provide more of their great education to more people.
Secondary School Pupils (Kettering)
Per pupil funding in Northamptonshire is £317 less than the English average, yet the rate of house building in Kettering and Northamptonshire over the next 10 or 15 years is among the highest in the country. When the Minister gets around to introducing a fairer funding formula for schools, will he ensure an extra boost for areas that are growing quicker than everywhere else?
Reducing absence from school is a top priority for this Government, and good attendance is clearly linked to attainment. There are 200,000 fewer pupils regularly missing school compared with when we began our reforms in 2010, but we need to do more to ensure that all children, regardless of their background or where they come from, are attending school regularly, because even short absences can damage a child’s education and life chances.
I recently visited the Caradon alternative provision academy in Liskeard, in my constituency. It provides education for young people who have been permanently excluded or are in intervention programmes, and it is achieving fantastic results. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the academy and consider visiting to see the fantastic work it does?
My hon. Friend is right. Every child, regardless of background or the problems they face, deserves the opportunity to develop their knowledge, skills and values to prepare them for life in modern Britain. Alternative provision academies, such as Caradon, play a crucial role in ensuring that pupils who cannot currently be educated in a mainstream school continue to receive a good education. I would be delighted to visit the school with her and to congratulate the staff at the academy on their achievements and professionalism.
Poor attendance, as well as extremely poor educational attainment, is a feature of the most recent Ofsted inspection at the Voyager academy in Walton, Peterborough, which is managed by the Comberton academy trust. May I encourage the Minister and the Secretary of State to use their powers to intervene on this first wave academy to replace Comberton with a much more suitable academy trust for the benefit of pupils in my constituency and beyond?
We take very seriously the performance of multi-academy trusts and the trustees’ oversight of academies, and the regional school commissioners will be looking at my hon. Friend’s case, as they do all issues of poor performance by academies within multi-academy trusts.
Mental Health Services
Good mental health and attainment are different sides of the same coin, which is why the Secretary of State appointed me as the first Education Minister with responsibility for mental health in schools. We are taking a number of steps, working with partners, to improve the mental health of young people.
Given that mental health conditions can be life-limiting for many young people in school, how are the Government ensuring that teachers have access to appropriate materials to teach pupils about mental health in an age-appropriate way so that we can break through this stigma?
I am glad my hon. Friend has asked that question. We have been working with the PSHE Association to develop age-appropriate lesson plans, as well as improving counselling and guidance, so that teachers know how to teach about mental health and deal with the range of issues they come across in young people.
As well as offering welcome advice and support to schools, will the Government consider introducing a compulsory psychological assessment for all children entering care to complement the physical assessment already required?
That is a very good suggestion. I understand from my hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families that we already have a health assessment, but we are open-minded on all ideas about how to tackle the problem. I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his suggestion.
Safe Transport on School Trips
Nothing is more important in education than the safety of young people at school and on school trips. We have worked with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Foreign Office and the Health and Safety Executive to revise our health and safety advice to provide further guidance on risk assessment and safety standards for school trips, and for trips abroad the Department recommends that tour operators and schools organising their own trips should follow British standard 8848, which provides a rigorous framework for risk assessment.
The Nightcap campaign, led by my constituent Pat Harris, is working with coach drivers to highlight their real concerns about the conditions they have to endure on long-distance school trips, including driver’s fatigue and concerns about safety. Will the Minister agree to meet the Nightcap campaigners and look at some of their recommendations?
I would be happy to meet the campaign, and I know that the hon. Lady has campaigned effectively on the issue of school trip safety for school pupils, particularly, as she said, on long-distance school trips and whether coach drivers are given sufficient time for sleep. As I said, British standard 8848 provides useful and important guidance on the risks of driver fatigue, and we recommend that schools and tour operators follow it. I would be happy to discuss these issues further with the hon. Lady and her constituent.
Since the last time the House met for Education questions, thousands of students across the country have taken key stage 1 and key stage 2 tests, GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels. I congratulate them all—and I am sure that all hon. Members, including the new shadow Education Secretary, would want to do so—on their results and thank the teachers and families who supported them. It is one year since the workload challenge was launched, and I would like to thank all those involved in our three working groups, which are making excellent progress on marking, lesson planning, resources and data management. I am determined to work with the profession to tackle these issues.
I, too, would like to congratulate all those who took their exams over the summer. Their success is often due to the hard work of teaching assistants who perform a vital role in the classroom, yet recent House of Commons Library figures show that they could lose up to £1,800 per year as a result of the tax credit cuts. Will the Secretary of State stand up for those working on the frontline who are enabling our children to get the best education possible?
The hon. Lady will be aware of the earlier questions asked about the state of school funding and funding for education. She will know that it is essential for schools to be properly funded and that those countries that have not brought their economies under control have sacked thousands of teachers and closed thousands of schools. She will also be aware that, because of the rise in the income tax threshold since 2010, 12 million women pay less income tax and 2 million women pay no income tax at all. We are also offering help to hard-working people with council tax freezes, fuel duty freezes and additional help with childcare.
T2. I support all those who have called for a fairer funding formula, but I would like to develop the argument a little further. Outstanding schools in my constituency, such as Bottisham Village college, do not do well on the funding formula at present, and as a result they are all the more reliant on grants for capital expenditure. Will the Secretary of State consider whether historic underfunding ought to be one of the factors taken into account for capital expenditure grant applications?
All local authorities receive capital funding for schools, including for school places and conditions. Cambridgeshire has been allocated almost £160 million in capital allocations between 2011 and 2018. It is important that capital funding is targeted on the school areas that need it most. Academies can also bid for the condition improvement fund. Bottisham’s application to the fund was assessed in relation to other expansion bids. Although I understand my hon. Friend’s point for capital to be considered as part of the revenue funding formula, she must realise that capital is part of what is done on a needs basis, which is different from how revenue is allocated.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker. It is good to be here this afternoon.
Yet again today, Ministers are doing the rounds asserting that the expansion of free childcare is one of the measures that will offset the cuts in tax credits for families. As the Secretary of State knows, however, the increase to 15 hours’ free childcare will not take place until September 2017 at the earliest, well after the tax credit cuts. Given that the Department is, in its own words, “unable to understand” the costs of childcare following the Secretary of State’s review, there are now real questions to be asked about the deliverability of the scheme. Does the Secretary of State agree that families need help with childcare now, especially those who face losing vital tax credits? What help is she providing for families before 2017?
Perhaps they would not have done that if the Secretary of State had provided adequate funds. Is not the truth that only a tiny minority of those affected by tax credit cuts will receive this childcare help anyway when it is eventually introduced? What is more, the Institute for Public Policy Research has said that the Secretary of State’s childcare pledge is underfunded by £1 billion. Given that the tax-free childcare is already 18 months behind schedule, the Government’s childcare policy is a mess. What has the Secretary of State to say to parents who, at the election, thought that they would be better off voting for her?
What I would say to the hon. Lady is that the reason funding in all areas of Government is so tight is the fact that we are dealing with the economic legacy left by the hon. Lady’s own party. If she were so interested in this, she would have allowed her peers to support the Bill.
If the hon. Lady wants to—[Interruption.]
If the hon. Lady had wanted people to believe promises, she would not have tried to carve them on the 8-foot six-inch “Edstone” that was unveiled by the former leader of her party. What we are seeing is a dearth of thinking from the hon. Lady. So far, in her short tenure as shadow Education Secretary, we have heard negativity about teacher recruitment, about childcare and about schools. Indeed, she has attacked a school in her own constituency, Manchester Enterprise Academy, whose headteacher claimed that she had misled him over what was going to be said about the school during the debate on the Bill’s Third Reading.
Helping local authorities to secure enough school places is one of the Government’s top priorities, and basic need funding is allocated to local authorities to support the creation of new places. Derbyshire will receive £12.8 million of basic need funding between 2015 and 2018.
When we came to office in 2010, we took the issue of providing more school places very seriously. We more than doubled capital spending, and we have created 445,000 new places since 2010. It is interesting to note that the Labour Government, during their last period in office, cut 207,000 places at a time when there was a baby boom.
T3. Some 150,000 families with a disabled child will be affected by the cuts in child tax credit. What assessment has the Secretary of State undertaken of the effect of the cuts on the additional number of disabled children who will be plunged into poverty, and, in turn, the effect on their development and their opportunity to succeed in education? (901754)
Yet again, all that we hear is the continual rumbling, if not outpouring, of negativity from the Labour party. The hon. Lady will know that the Government are spending more on disability benefits than her own party did in government, and also that all tax changes are subjected to the normal impact assessment.
T10. Hopefully, I will be positive and helpful. I went to both a comprehensive and a grammar school, and it seemed to me that there was much to be said for grammar schools. Would the Secretary of State like to encourage their expansion? (901761)
T4. A part of rip-off Britain is increasingly affecting schools, which is the branding of every item of clothing by academies under the guise of school uniforms. As there is a monopoly supplier for every school, what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that there is some competition so parents can have a choice and save some of their valuable earnings? (901755)
The admissions code is very clear: schools cannot use expensive suppliers for school uniforms. They cannot use the supply of school uniforms as a way of raising extra revenue for the school, and the schools adjudicator takes these matters very seriously, as do we.
Edward Saunders, a bright and promising student in my constituency, died tragically aged 18 of meningitis. Will my right hon. Friend make sure everything is done across Government to highlight, including in schools and higher education, the dangers to young adults of meningitis? When he was 11, Edward wrote a children’s book entitled “Robey and the Dentist”, which has now been published with all profits going to help raise awareness of meningitis and to treat it. Might I present my right hon. Friend with a copy at the Department to help raise the profile of this very worthwhile campaign?
T5. Now that the Secretary of State is allowing the expansion of grammar schools, will she consider amending the Education and Adoption Bill which is presently going through another place to enable us to tackle coasting in grammar schools, so that where coasting is identified they can swiftly be converted to academies? (901756)
I like the hon. Gentleman’s thinking in some aspects of that question. He is absolutely right to say that we are serious about tackling the continued underperformance of all schools across the country. I should be clear that there has been no change in policy on grammar schools or selective education. One particular school has been given permission to expand.
I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend about the opening of this new institution. It is incredibly important that the best possible opportunities are presented to all young people including those with special educational needs, and sometimes that is best done in institutions that specialise in that. I would be delighted to learn more and maybe visit with him at some point in the future.
T6. Further to the questions asked earlier, the Minister will be aware of the merger discussions announced between Barrow sixth-form college and Furness college today, and the fact that it is prompted by the dire situation the sixth-form college finds itself in. Will he agree to meet me and education representatives from the area to discuss the unusual situation Furness finds itself in, where it cannot put courses on with the same number of people and therefore does not have the same efficiency as it does in other areas? (901757)
Of course I would be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman. My understanding is that this is a proposal that has been brought forward by the sixth-form college, anticipating the problems it has and trying to get ahead of them, and that is an approach we entirely welcome, but I will be happy to meet him and representatives of both colleges to understand the situation better.
My hon. Friend will be familiar with the London challenge, which ran in the capital until 2011. As an MP for a very rural area, may I ask the Secretary of State to look at introducing a rural challenge to help support areas in North Cornwall?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be aware that our stated ambition is that all children should have an excellent education regardless of where they live and their birth or background. I am particularly conscious of the challenges facing rural schools, and I look forward to working with him and MPs across the House on these particular challenges facing their schools.
T7. Free school meals was a Liberal Democrat policy achieved by the coalition Government and the pilot areas show it has improved attainment particularly for lower-income children. Will the Secretary of State now give those families the assurance and certainty they need by saying that this programme will not be reduced in the comprehensive spending review? (901758)
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman was here for the earlier exchanges on this issue. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say to him that, like all Government Departments, we are having to look at all areas of spending and at every line in the Department. However, there was a clear commitment in our manifesto to free school meals, which the Prime Minister has recently reiterated.
Parents in Kent welcome the Secretary of State’s support for the expansion of popular grammar schools. Will she join me in expressing support for the commission launched by Kent County Council to ensure that children from low-income families get enough help to get into grammar schools, so that those schools can fulfil their potential to create social mobility?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I should apologise to all Kent Members of Parliament, who will have seen my face in far too many local magazines and newspapers following my announcement. I welcome the work being done by Kent County Council. The new admissions code will specifically allow grammar schools to give priority to disadvantaged children who are eligible for the pupil premium. I also know that schools and authorities across the country are introducing stringent ways of stopping people being prepared for tests through tutoring.
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has got his facts right. There are now more teachers in England’s classrooms than ever before. There are 455,000, which is 5,000 more than there were last year and 13,000 more than when Labour left office in 2010. Vacancy rates are stable. Almost 90% of teachers continue in the profession following their first year of teaching, with 72% of newly qualified teachers still teaching after five years and 52% still teaching after 18 years. I am afraid that he has got his facts wrong.
Charities such as Off the Record in my constituency help to facilitate safe spaces for young people who have faced traumatic incidents in schools. Does the Secretary of State agree that the creation of safe spaces in schools would have a dramatic impact and help to reduce mental ill health in schools?
That sounds like a very interesting project, and I would certainly be happy to look into that issue if my hon. Friend writes to us with more details. I was recently at Upton Cross primary school in West Ham, where the charity Place2Be is working with the school to provide a similar service offering spaces where children can share their experiences.
This term, schools around the country are rightly being asked not only to respect but to promote British values. Does the Secretary of State agree with the proposal in my early-day motion, tabled today, that it is time we added compassion to that list of values? My constituents think that that is one of the qualities that make this country great. Should we not start to celebrate it as such?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s commitment and his support for the teaching of fundamental British values in all our schools. He is absolutely right to say that those are the values that make our country great. I am very happy to look at this. We could have an endless debate on which values to capture, but the ones that we have, particularly respect and tolerance, are hugely important and I want everyone to get on with thinking about how best we can promote them.
I have a short statement to make to colleagues about how I intend to implement the Standing Orders agreed by the House on 22 October—for the benefit of those listening beyond this Chamber, this of course concerns the so-called English votes on English laws issue. After a Government Bill has been introduced, a note will be published in the appropriate place on the Order Paper to the effect that I have not yet considered it for certification. The same process will be followed for statutory instruments requiring consideration. If I sign a certificate, the note on the Order Paper will be changed accordingly. Any certification will also be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings. I do not propose to record a decision not to certify. The absence of any note on the Order Paper will indicate that no certification has been made.
Before Report stage begins, I will seek to identify in advance those changes made in Committee which I would expect to certify, together with any Government amendments tabled for Report stage which, if passed, would be likely to lead me to issue a certificate. At the end of Report stages of Bills, where I am required to consider any matter for certification I would as a matter of course expect a brief suspension of the House, so that I, or a Deputy, can leave the Chair and decide whether to certify. Similar brief suspensions may be necessary at later stages. I propose to accept the advice of the Procedure Committee not, as a rule, to give reasons for decisions on certification during this experimental phase of the new regime. Anybody wishing to make representations to me prior to any decision should send them to the Clerk of Legislation. I wish to assure the House that everything is in hand to provide for “double majority Divisions”, including deferred Divisions.
Finally, may I say that, as set out on Thursday, we are in experimental territory and I may indeed myself experiment by adjusting these arrangements as the new regime develops? Whatever the views of colleagues on their merits, I hope the House will support me and the Officers of the House in trying to give effect to these Standing Orders to the best of our ability.
Arrests of Chinese Protesters
Last week, there was a very successful visit of the President of the People’s Republic of China to the United Kingdom, hosted by Her Majesty. As is the case for all state visits, careful plans were put in place to ensure the safety and security of the visit. The Home Secretary was personally briefed on the policing plans by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The right of peaceful protest is guaranteed under UK law, with respect to a protester’s rights to express their views peacefully, and the policing plans therefore sought to facilitate peaceful protest. However, as part of last week’s policing operation three individuals were arrested. I understand, and it is public knowledge, that the Metropolitan police arrested individuals for breach of the peace and, subsequently, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit threatening behaviour. I understand that all three individuals have now been bailed to return to a London police station at a later date, while further investigations continue.
The operational policing of protests and the use of police powers are entirely matters for chief constables in the United Kingdom, and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to comment on specific individual cases. The right to protest peacefully is guaranteed under UK law, but protesters’ rights need to be balanced with the right of others to go about their business without fear of intimidation or serious disruption to the community. Rights to peaceful protest do not extend to violent, threatening behaviour, and the police have the powers to deal with such acts. The Metropolitan police issued a statement on this issue last week; they reject any suggestion that they acted inappropriately. They made it clear that throughout the visit they had sought to facilitate peaceful protest and ensured that all those who wished to do so were allowed to express their views. That is the fundamental British value of freedom of expression and association, which I am sure this House would continue to support.
I also remind this House that the system of policing complaints in this country is an independent one; under the procedures laid down in part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002 to ensure that officers and staff can be answerable to the public, that process is there. However, a police investigation is going on and, frankly, politicians should stay out of that.
I thank the Minister for his statement. Right hon. and hon. Members from across the House will, I am sure, however, share my deep concern at the way in which Dr Shao Jiang, a former Chinese dissident and veteran of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, was arrested last Wednesday on the Mall and the fact that a short time later two Tibetan students, one of whom, Sonam Choden, was a British Citizen, were also arrested for attempting to display a Tibetan flag while the Chinese President’s cavalcade was passing the Mansion House. Dr Shao, who is now a British citizen, stepped out into the road while he was trying to display two A4-sized placards protesting against China’s human rights abuses when he was tackled to the ground by five Metropolitan police officers. This was shown on “Channel 4 News”. While the three protesters were being held in the cells in Bishopsgate, their homes were searched and their computers and iPads seized. Their mobile phones were also kept by the police. Does the Minister have any idea when their possessions will be returned? Will the confidentiality of the data on their computers be respected, as all three depend on their computers for work? Will he comment on why their homes were searched at night while they were in custody?
The three people arrested were told that any charges they may face will be decided on in early December. Does the Minister believe that that delay is justified? Is it acceptable to detain lawful protesters overnight in the cells? Finally, will the Minister comment on whether these arrests are related to last week’s visit of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping?
Order. What the Minister chooses to say or not to say is a matter for him. Equally, other Members can raise these matters, with the agreement of the Chair and if appropriate, whenever and how often they wish. These matters will run and run, so colleagues must not worry about that.
This seems to be extraordinary. If only three people were arrested when a lot of people were wanting to protest, the police must have allowed protest. If there were a complaint about 300 people being arrested, I would understand the problem, but not when there were only three.
As I said in my statement, a lot of preparation work was done to ensure that people had the right to protest peaceably, as the law stipulates. But if the police made a decision to arrest—and they have made that decision—that is an operational matter and not a matter for the Police Minister to comment on.
China is a proud country of 1.4 billion people. It is the second largest economy in the world—soon to be the largest. The Anglo-Chinese relationship is very important. We have, for example, Chinese collaboration, Chinese investment and Chinese students. If it is right that we seek to strengthen that relationship, then that relationship should be underpinned by an integrity of approach. There are certain values of universal human rights that transcend any commercial or other relationship. That is why this country rightly believes that, domestically, our Bill of Rights is so important, rooted as it is in our great democratic traditions back to the Magna Carta. That is why, internationally, in a free society we both engage and speak out, as indeed you did last week, Mr Speaker—would that the Prime Minister had been quite as vigorous as you—as did the Leader of the Opposition and the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg in her interrogation of the Chinese President.
In a free society, we defend the right to dissent and to protest. It would not be appropriate to comment in any detail on the circumstances of this case, because it is under investigation, but these are very serious allegations that should be properly investigated, including the raid on the homes of those engaged in dissent. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) is absolutely right to raise these concerns on the Floor of the House of Commons.
I am not certain whether there was a question there. If I have missed it, I will write to the hon. Gentleman. I think that I agree with everything that he said early on in his contribution about our relationship with China. Indeed, some very, very important business was done last week. The principle of protest is absolutely right. Three people are on bail while an investigation takes place. It would be wrong of me to comment, in any shape or form, on the legitimacy of the case at the moment.
I am glad that the Minister shares our pride in our tradition of peaceful protest. Does he share my shame at the purported harassment of a Tiananmen Square survivor, Dr Shao Jiang? What would the Minister do if peaceful protesters such as myself or other Members in this Chamber got a knock on the door in the middle of the night from the police? Would he help us?
I am not going to prejudge an investigation by the Metropolitan police, for whom I have great respect—as I do for the other 42 police authorities for which I am responsible. Let us wait and see, rather than prejudge the case. If we let the investigation continue, we will all know the facts.
The Chinese ambassador to the UK recently stated that nobody would be put behind bars simply for criticising the Chinese Government. I appreciate that the Government are keen to banish human rights protections in this country, but is the Minister really happy not even to be able to make the same civil liberties commitment as China claims to make? I appreciate that the Minister cannot comment on an individual case, so I will not ask him to do so. Will he tell me, however, whether he can think of any reason, hypothetically speaking, why somebody waving their country’s flag should lead to them being arrested, put behind bars and having their mobile phone and PC taken from them?
With all due respect, this might become slightly repetitive. The police made a decision operationally on the ground, which we should respect. We should wait for the investigation to finish and then we can all make our commentary on the facts. If people want to make a complaint, there is a certain way that that can be done and it certainly does not involve this House. It happens after the case is finished.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that these potential breaches of the peace will be subject to the same investigation and same due process as they would whether they had involved the Chinese President’s visit or anybody else’s visit? Will he also say whether the powers of the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be invoked wherever necessary?
If an individual wants to make a complaint pertaining to this case to the police complaints authority, that is for them to do. It does not matter whether this was a Chinese demonstration or any other sort of demonstration; if the police decided at the scene that an arrest was needed, I will back them for that. I think that the whole House would support that decision, too.
Does the Minister have any idea of the anger felt in this place and outside it over what occurred? It is unfortunate that he appears to be an apologist for that, as it seems to many people that what took place, as far as the police were concerned, could be described as British police action with Chinese characteristics.
I will treat some of those comments with contempt. Given the amount of experience the hon. Gentleman has in this House, I would have thought that he would have supported the police in this difficult situation. I was not there and I saw the TV coverage, too. The officers who were there made the decision to arrest. Ongoing litigations continue, so let us wait and see what happens.
Perhaps I can elicit more of a comment from the Minister if I talk in generalities. I am pleased that he mentioned freedom of expression as a centrepiece of our democracy. When I asked the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), the same question on Thursday, I appeared to receive an answer to a completely different question, so will the Minister tell me how freedom of expression was equitably allowed by police who corralled peaceful Tibetan demonstrators at the back of the Mall with a line of police officers in front of them while pro-Chinese demonstrators, wearing T-shirts issued by the Chinese embassy, were allowed prime position at the front?
One of the three individuals arrested, Sonam Choden, is a constituent of mine. She is a British citizen and was arrested on Wednesday for waving a Tibetan flag. I understand the Minister’s point about not getting involved in operational matters, but if it proves to be the case that there were no grounds for arrest, will he support me in looking into how the protests are policed and operationally overseen, as it seems that these three individuals were arrested without sufficient grounds?
I can understand the concern. I am a constituency MP and if I were on the Back Benches I would have the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expressed. However, I would also wait for the police investigation. There are a lot of assumptions about who, why and where. Let us wait. I have faith in the police in this country, as we all have. Let us wait and see as the investigation progresses.
Dr Shao Jiang is a constituent of mine. The world saw him arrested for waving two A4 placards calling for human rights in China. His home was searched when no one was there, and his and his wife Johanna’s computers have been confiscated. I spoke to Johanna this afternoon. It was a very traumatic experience for both of them, but particularly for Dr Jiang, given that he has already been held for 18 months in a Chinese jail for organising the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Will the Minister advise me how I as Dr Jiang’s Member of Parliament can hold to account those who made the disgraceful decisions to arrest someone who was, on the face of it, behaving in a way that was entirely peaceful, who should not have been arrested and whose house should not have been searched?
Although I fully understand the hon. Lady’s feeling that she needs to support her constituents—I fully understand that—we must wait, because that is the sort of democracy we are in. It is an ongoing investigation. The gentleman she refers to is on bail. Let us wait and see what happens. After it is all over I will be more than happy to meet colleagues to discuss this, but we must wait.
I spent most of last week in Geneva chairing a committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the human rights of parliamentarians. Many of the breaches of their rights involved freedom of expression and so on—many of the things that appear to have taken place here last week—and I feel rather embarrassed to be lecturing politicians from other countries about freedom of expression when what was, as I understand it, a peaceful demonstration was treated in such a way.
I met the right hon. Lady just before she went to Geneva so I know exactly why she was there, and I hope it was a very successful visit. Thousands of people did demonstrate peacefully. Three people were arrested. Let us wait and see what the investigation shows. [Interruption.] I trust the police to do an investigation. The hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) does not, and he should be ashamed. [Interruption.]
Order. Not an appropriate observation from a sedentary position. The loyalist chirruping of the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis)—[Interruption.] Order. No comment is required from the hon. Gentleman. His loyalist chirruping is unsurpassed by any Member of the House of Commons. I recognise that in the exercise of his important note-passing responsibilities as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, he feels a duty to discharge his obligations with great commitment. [Interruption.] No, I am not interested in the hon. Gentleman’s views. His responsibility is to sit there and nod and shake his head in the appropriate places as a PPS, and to fetch and carry notes when required. It is always a joy to hear the hon. Gentleman on his feet, but I do not need to hear him when he is in his seat.
This may have been a lawful arrest; I do not want to prejudge the police, not knowing the evidence, but what we do know is that up and down the country, not only in the Metropolitan police area, but in other police forces in England and Wales, there are unlawful arrests every single day of the week, and for that the taxpayer has to pay out millions of pounds of compensation every year. What we do not know, because the Home Office has yet to publish those figures and is unprepared to do so thus far, is how much that costs taxpayers. Does the Minister agree that if those figures were published, it might incentivise the police to be a little bit more careful about what is lawful and unlawful?
The Minister is absolutely right: operational matters are and must be for the police, but when the execution of these operational matters is done in such a way as to risk a chilling effect on freedom of speech, that becomes a matter for this House. I do not see how it would prejudice any future prosecution for the Minister to interrogate those responsible for the policy behind these actions now. Indeed, I suggest to him that he has a duty to do so. Will he do that?
As I said in my opening remarks, before the state visit the Home Secretary was briefed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on how legitimate protests would be policed, and on the possibility of protests that were not legitimate or legal. Ultimately, what took place was still the result of operational decisions taken on the day, and of course those decisions will be reviewed. Today’s urgent question was about three people being arrested, and I cannot comment on that because doing so could jeopardise ongoing investigations. Of course, we must always learn from how policing is done, and I am sure that is exactly what we will do.
When the Minister looks back on these police actions and forms a judgment on whether they were appropriate, will he also look at the actions of Birmingham City Councillor Alex Yip—a Conservative councillor—who, as The Independent reports today, has been accused of helping pro-Chinese demonstrations? As far as I can see, that was deemed to be totally appropriate.
Does the Minister not appreciate the propaganda value of what has happened over the past few weeks? First it was all about China, human rights and Tiananmen Square—indeed, you, Mr Speaker, almost referred to that in your remarks in the Royal Gallery. Today, however, the Chinese can say, “Well, things are no different in Britain.”
I find that completely baffling. We went out of our way, during a state visit by a very senior member of a foreign Government, to ensure that people had an opportunity to protest, and at huge cost to the Metropolitan police. When people have been arrested and are on bail while investigations take place, it would not be right for a Policing Minister to judge how other countries will look on those arrests until those investigations have been concluded.
As someone who has worked very hard to build bridges between this country, this Parliament and China, and who thinks that the recent visit was, by and large, a great success—the balance was right, because they heard some things they did not want to hear, especially from you, Mr Speaker, but it was also a very positive visit—I have to say to the Minister, whom I have known a long time, that we would be much happier if he had started his remarks with the same tone that he has since used. Our right as Members of Parliament is to say that we are really concerned, so my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) was right to ask this urgent question. At first the Minister sounded as if he was full of testosterone and ready to defend his patch, but he has ended up being much more conciliatory. He should have started that way, because we all quite like him when he is in that mode.
To be fair, this is a massively serious issue, particularly for the three people who were arrested, but it is also a very important issue for the police, and perhaps for the Crown Prosecution Service, but we all need to wait, and perhaps we will all learn a little from that.
This is a serious matter, but is the Minister aware that a few days before the state visit by the President of China there was a visit to this country by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, and outside the Dorchester hotel the umbrella movement were playing music and shouting into megaphones? Can he tell us whether any of those democracy protesters from Hong Kong were arrested, or is it a case of one country, two systems?
The hon. Gentleman’s question is better than the last one, but I do not think the soundbite quite worked. I do not know because I was not aware of that, so let me find out. If anyone was arrested, I will obviously let the hon. Gentleman and the House know.
During the visit of President Xi I met a Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng—a human rights lawyer who was granted asylum by the Americans. He talked about the pressures that human rights activists are facing in China with the persecution of journalists and of Christians. I appreciate that the Minister is not able to talk about police operations, but it is important that we recognise the sensitivity in countries like China at seeing how democracy operates in Britain and that freedom of speech is respected, as is the freedom to demonstrate. I hope he will make sure that the Metropolitan police are made aware of that.
I am sure that the Metropolitan police are listening to this discussion, but I will also make sure that I mention that in the discussions I have with them. The fact that peaceful demonstrations by thousands of people took place in this country is an example to the world that we can have demonstrations like that. I am not going to go into the issue of what happened with the arrests, but we are a democracy where peace-loving people can demonstrate, and thank goodness they can.
Does the Minister know whether formal complaints have been made to the Metropolitan police? If they have, does he think it is appropriate that rather than being dealt with through an internal investigative measure they should be referred automatically to the Independent Police Complaints Commission because of their sensitivity?
I am not aware of whether a formal complaint has been made. It is the normal procedure for the matter to go to the Metropolitan police and then the Met themselves can either refer it or it can be referred later on once it has gone through the due process of the complaints procedure. I will find out whether the Metropolitan police have done this and arrange for the commissioner to write to the hon. Lady.
The Minister may be embarrassed on behalf of the Government’s distinguished foreign guest, but does he understand that many in this House are embarrassed when Mrs Zhang, one of the arrested people, says “It feels like when I was in China”? The police pick up signals from Government, and this Government are in the process of repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 and our obligations under the European convention on human rights, including the article 11 rights to protest and freedom of association. When the operational decisions are over, will he properly investigate these circumstances to ensure that our feelings on these matters are not unsubstantiated?
Of course, once the investigation is over and decisions are made we will all look very carefully at what went on. It is, however, a stretch of the imagination to insinuate that the police would police a protest because of a feeling they get from a Government’s possible future legislation.
Data Breaches (Consumer Protection)
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if he will make a statement on Government responsibilities and policies for protecting consumers and infrastructure following large-scale data breaches such as that suffered by TalkTalk.
Let me begin by saying that this is clearly a very serious matter. We are all aware that TalkTalk suffered a data breach last week. I want to reassure Members of this House, and TalkTalk customers who may have been affected, that law enforcement has been working very closely with the company since the breach was notified and of course continues to do so.
I commend the chief executive of TalkTalk for her openness and transparency since the company became aware of the attack. I know that she will do all she can to protect her customers. Nevertheless, this is a very serious incident. I understand that the company has offered free support to customers to ensure that they are alerted to any suspicious activity in relation to their bank accounts. I am also reassured that the Financial Conduct Authority has said that it is not aware of any unusual activity at the moment, and that further advice and guidance is available in a range of places such as Get Safe Online and Cyber Streetwise.
However, it is extremely important that companies do all they can to protect themselves, and of course their customers, from cyber-attacks. This Government and the previous Administration have worked extremely hard to ensure that companies have the tools they need to protect themselves. We have invested £860 million over five years in the national cyber-security programme, set up the national cybercrime unit inside the National Crime Agency, and launched the Cyber Streetwise and Cyber Essentials schemes. I am pleased that the number of businesses aware of Cyber Streetwise has doubled and that more than 1,000 businesses have now signed up to the Cyber Essentials scheme, which sets out basic technical controls.
A year ago we made it mandatory that any company that contracts with Government should be accredited under the Cyber Essentials scheme, where appropriate and proportionate. I am also pleased that almost every FTSE 350 company has included cyber-security on its risk register. The “10 Steps to Cyber Security” guidance gives large businesses and organisations comprehensive advice and there are simplified versions available for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Recent events show how vital it is that we maintain that momentum and that businesses act on our advice in order to protect their customers from harm. I will write again to the FTSE 350 companies, to reinforce the steps we expect them to take and the robust procedures that they need to have in place.
The Government take the UK’s cyber-security extremely seriously and we will continue to do everything in our power to protect organisations and individuals from attacks.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
When someone’s data are lost, criminals are given a gateway into their lives. I have spoken to one woman who lost £5,000 in a sophisticated scam following a previous TalkTalk breach. Today, up to 4 million people are wondering what data they have lost and where a cyber-attack will come from. They are checking their bank accounts, callers and credit cards. The Government need to reassure us that our digital lives are secure, and they need to help our digital economy to grow.
When did the Minister first speak to TalkTalk about the breach and its implications? Is he now aware of what data were taken and whether they were encrypted? What obligations were there on TalkTalk to report the breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office and to advise customers, and did it do that quickly enough? What rights of compensation do TalkTalk customers have and for how long, and how can they exercise them?
Will the Minister ask the Information Commissioner to update his guidance in the light of the current confusion? What additional resources will police have to respond to the up to 4 million inquiries from frightened customers, and will the breach be reported as one cybercrime or many?
For many years, we have been calling on the Government to take action to protect consumers and citizens from cyber-scams. This Government’s data policy is chaos illuminated by occasional flashes of incompetence. Will the Minister acknowledge that all the innovation has come from the criminals while the Government sit on their hands, leaving it to businesses and consumers to suffer the consequences?
Of course, the hon. Lady is perfectly entitled to ask those questions, many of which are valid, but I have to take issue from the very beginning with her assertion that the Government have somehow been sitting on their hands. I do not think she heard my response to the urgent question. We have invested more than £860 million in cyber-security and we have a number of very effective schemes with which to engage business. It is worth remembering that that money was invested at a time of economic austerity and that that was one of the first decisions taken by the coalition Government.
The hon. Lady asked how many people have lost their data. The situation is fast moving and, given that the investigation is ongoing, it would be remiss of me to put a final figure on it. As I said in my response, law enforcement agencies have been in touch, and we have been in continuous discussion, with TalkTalk since Thursday.
On the question of what data have been taken, the chief executive of TalkTalk has issued a number of statements, saying that bank account details have been given out and that some credit card details, albeit tokenised, have been stolen as well.
The question of whether TalkTalk reported the breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office in time will be a matter between the Information Commissioner and TalkTalk, although I understand that it was reported on the Thursday. As I understand it, any rights of compensation and how long they will take will also be a matter for the Information Commissioner.
I am delighted that, since last month, the Information Commissioner falls within my Department. It is precisely that kind of joined-up government that is needed to make our combating of cybercrime and cyber-fraud as effective as possible. I will certainly meet the Information Commissioner to discuss the issues.
The police have extensive resources with which to combat cybercrime, and we are the Government who set up the national cybercrime unit.
May I just confirm that we will look very closely at this issue on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee? Has my hon. Friend noted that it appears that much of the information had not been encrypted? Is there in fact a case for requiring the encryption of customer data by other companies, such as this one, in future?
I am delighted that the Chairman of the Select Committee will conduct an inquiry into data protection. I am sure that the inquiry, particularly the findings that come out of the report, will be extremely valuable. It has to be said that companies should encrypt their information. There has been some misinformation that the Government are somehow against encryption.
Wednesday’s cyber-attack on TalkTalk has illustrated the problems faced by a Government who have failed to protect the interests of consumers through their lightweight regulation of telecoms. For the third time in less than a year, the 4 million customers of TalkTalk have had their confidential details compromised and, once again, the Government and TalkTalk have fallen short in their response.
TalkTalk has attempted to downplay the impact of the attack on its website, stating that the core system was not affected, but that ignores the broader use of personal data in fraud and identity theft. It is estimated that the value of a credit card number to a criminal increases by 500% when combined with the personal details of the individual. Although credit card numbers expire and can change, self-evidently people’s names, addresses and dates of birth do not. Once a criminal has those details, they can use them for numerous purposes. TalkTalk is clearly not taking that seriously enough.
In the United States, AT&T was fined £17 million for failing to protect customer data. In the United Kingdom, the ICO can only place fines of up to £500,000. For a company that received an annual revenue of nearly £1.8 billion, a fine that small will clearly not be terrifying. The regulation of telecoms must be strengthened to protect consumers.
Does the Minister agree that telecom providers must be held fully responsible for failing to protect confidential data? Regulation needs to be strengthened to ensure that; I am afraid that free counselling from TalkTalk is meaningless twaddle.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that extensive question. As I said earlier, the Information Commissioner’s Office will obviously look at this data breach. It has extensive powers to take action and, indeed, to levy significant fines. The Government are always open to suggestions about how that could be improved. As I said in an earlier answer, I will certainly meet the Information Commissioner to look at what further changes may be needed in the light of this data breach.
The internet is the fastest growing sector of the economy, having moved from about 6% of GDP in 2011 to 10% now and growing. One of the aims of the Government’s admirable UK cyber-security strategy is to make the UK
“one of the most secure places in the world to do business”
in cyberspace. However, that depends on the capabilities of our law-enforcement operations, such as the Met police who are working with TalkTalk today. What can the Minister say about ensuring that our law-enforcement officers have the skills and capabilities needed to tackle cybercrime and to maintain the valuable confidence we need to continue to do growing business on the internet?
My right hon. Friend is quite right to say that cyber-security lies at the heart of the success of our digital economy. It is absolutely vital that customers can trust the websites to which they go and that we have the right law-enforcement capabilities. I am delighted that the police national cybercrime unit has received significant funding and that we have regional cybercrime units, including the Metropolitan police’s very effective cybercrime unit, which has worked so closely with TalkTalk since this matter came to light.
Two years ago, Adrian Leppard, the country’s most senior police officer for online fraud, told the Home Affairs Committee that we were not winning the war against cybercrime. Every month there are 600,000 cyber-attacks against British companies, and we need a 21st-century response to this 21st-century crime. Will the Minister seek an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary to see whether more of the cyber-budget could be put into policing, and will he consider what can be done to advise and assist British companies that lose £34 billion every year to cybercrime? Many attacks are launched from the territories of EU partners, and this is an international crime. The Government should be commended for putting in the money, but we must do more through Europol, in conjunction with other countries.
Given that the right hon. Gentleman has been gracious enough to commend the Government for investing money in this area, let me meet him half way. Of course Ministers meet across Departments—a number of Departments have relevant interests in this area—and we will always consider what more can be done. I will certainly take the right hon. Gentleman’s advice and ensure that Ministers meet across Departments to consider how we can co-ordinate our action more effectively.
I welcome what the Minister has said because it underlines the importance of cyber-security skills to our whole economy. Will he join me in congratulating Training 2000, which is currently establishing an institute of cyber-security in my constituency? That will provide cyber-security apprenticeships, along with a range of other courses for small and medium-sized businesses in my area.